Seeking Ways to Distribute $3.2 Billion in Low-Income Broadband Assistance

Randy Sukow


FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel

In a Public Notice (PDF) issued earlier this week, the FCC asked for input on how to manage the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a new initiative to assist low-income households to pay for home internet service. Congress passed the $3.2 billion program as part of the recent COVID-19 relief and omnibus spending act.

“This pandemic has demonstrated that access to broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it is need-to-have for everyone, everywhere.  But the truth is the cost of broadband service can be a hardship for many families, especially during the ongoing crisis,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “With so much of modern life now dependent on internet access, no one should have to choose between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries.”

The new act specifies that internet providers must apply to participate in the program. Providers must be eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) or receive specific FCC approval to participate. They will be required to provide discounts of up to $50 a month on internet access and associated equipment and up to $75 month for service on tribal lands. The act also directs the FCC to use the existing Lifeline National Eligibility Verifier database to determine consumer eligibility.

Beyond the law’s requirements, the FCC is seeking public comments on other administrative issues, such as streamlining participant approval in areas where no ETC is present; ways to verify eligibility for households applying for assistance; what specific services beyond internet access should be eligible for reimbursement, at others. In addition, the FCC asks whether it should “pay special attention to established programs that target groups vulnerable during the pandemic,” including low-income rural households.

Initial comments on the program are due Jan. 25 and reply comments on Feb. 16.

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